Springtime suds: Ruth Gonzalez seeks out three local soap makers so you can finish your spring-cleaning, literally!(BUY LOCAL)

AuthorGonzalez, Ruth

Soft rich lather, a daily dose of aromatherapy, and all-natural ingredients characterize the moisturizing soaps made by three local soap makers. Their soaps are different than mainstream personal care products. Many industrially produced products are petroleum-based, contain ingredients that are harsh on the skin, use synthetic perfumes, and may contain hormone-disrupting chemicals of particular concern for teenage girls and women of all ages. In contrast, conversations with the following local soap makers about their processes conjure up images of them in their gardens. They're all devoted gardeners who grow herbs, flowers and vegetables and utilize their homegrown herbs in their soaps and other herbal products. Most of their businesses began with a love of herbs, a desire to be at home with their children as much as possible, and an entrepreneurial spirit.

Twenty years ago, Beth Herdman started making salves because she didn't want to use commercial products on her newborn baby daughter. A few years later, Beth's sister landed in the hospital with a severe allergic reaction to a bar of French lavender soap from the grocery. She and her sister are both sensitive to perfumes, so Beth decided to try her hand at soap making. She uses only pure essential oils for their healing qualities and therapeutic fragrances.

Cheri Hoefelmeyer liked using handmade soaps because her face didn't feel tight after using them. She decided to try making some for her family and ended up selling her soaps at the Mars Hill Farmers' & Artisans' Market for many years. When she first started making soap, the Internet was in its infancy, and information and ingredients were hard to find. Even though information is now very accessible online, Cheri's favorite source is a book called The Natural Soap Book by Susan Miller Cavitch.

Registered nurse Leslie Stilwell attended the NC School of Herbalism 15 years ago. She wanted a tangible way to integrate her love. of herbs into her daily life and spend more time at home with her young daughter, so she started making herbal soaps hoping to produce extra income. It worked! As a mother/infant nurse, Leslie even created a soap with extra-sensitive baby skin in mind. Leslie's soap has lots of fans at Mission Hospital where she works, but she also sells to the general public.

Although local soap makers can't legally make any claims about their products, Leslie reports that she "gets a...

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